From the moment the plane touched down in Australia the heavens opened. My first two weeks in Sydney were soggy to say the least. The city saw unprecedented rainfall throughout March and all my friends blamed me for bringing the British weather with me. Typical. Everyone needs a scapegoat.
I was wearing waterproof trousers in a city famed for board shorts and flip flops and was left wondering who had hijacked the sun. Despite the weather my four weeks across Australia were incredible. This trip was never meant to happen, so everything I did was remarkable, if not really expensive. I flew and took busses all over the east coast catching up with people who have stayed in touch with me over the last decade. When I drew up a list of people I knew it surprised even me.
Sydney is a fun city, not as cosmopolitan as Melbourne, but it does have a massive number of South East Asian living there. It’s ridiculously expensive but that’s because the standard of living in Australia is higher than in Europe. Thankfully couch surfing with friends meant I saved on accommodation costs and was able to indulge in some pretty wonderful activities. A huge thank you to everyone who played host to me!!
I paid a small fortune to see Tosca at the Opera House, then climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge wearing a onesie and a harness; took in the Rocks historic walking tour. Boarded the fast ferry and bounced across the water to Manly. Joined a yoga studio and practised daily in two different states; and walked from Bondi to Coogee amazed at the beauty of the coastline. Drank great coffee every day and stocked up on super foods and green veg.
In my second week I flew up to the Gold Coast and stayed in a beautiful family house with a girl friend in the Tweed Valley. Mount Warning looming in front of us each morning. We hiked part of the mountain one day but were forced to turn back due to fading light.I saw a river literally sweep aside the access road to the house I was staying in which led to an impromptu overnight in Byron Bay. Who knew reggae nights were so popular on a Monday?
I finally took several giant leaps into the Great Barrier Reef. Bucket list checked. My dive instructor in Fiji – The drummer – had advised me to go to Port Douglas and dive from there. Best tip ever. I didn’t like Cairns when I visited. It was too grimy, shady and impersonal. From Port Douglas I was able to explore the outer reefs – The Agincourt. The health of coral is sadly now life-support material. Everywhere is a graveyard of white and grey tombs. There are pockets of vibrant colours but they are an anomaly and ironically look out of place. It’s like everyone checked out and pulled the plug. The areas of neon blues and yellows make the contrast that much starker.
But despite the reefs’ decline I was blessed to see fish that were so enormous they dwarfed the largest male diver in my group. The sheer number of these prehistoric-sized fish made me feel like Alice in Wonderland and I was filled with awe. I met some great people diving but also some horrific recreational divers who kicked and crashed into vestiges of the reef with no remorse that I had to console myself with Margaritas every night. A friend recently said to me, “Regarding coral there is not enough tequila in the world…..Fortunately for people like you and me, global warming has created an inverse relationship between the health of coral and agave.”
I stayed out of the water one day and visited Daintree National Park. Licked the rear end of a green ant (tastes of citrus), stroked a peppermint stick insect and road the river boat in search of 5m crocs.
From Port Douglas I went to Melbourne to see an old university friend who I lived with and have known for twenty years. I also acquired a two-year old room mate overnight – her adorable daughter. I was thrown into the deep end having to babysit one day which totally freaked me out. But the little monkey was so well behaved it was a no brainer. Dress up, Peter Rabbit and an afternoon nap was all it took.
Melbourne has a free tram in the city centre and getting around is easy. It’s one big grid, impossible to get lost. The city has been described as quite European and can have four seasons in one day. I love it. It’s definitely more me than Sydney. It has some incredible graffiti in an area called The Lanes. There a beautiful galleries and walks along the river. And the bar and restaurant scene knocks Sydney off the map. I ate at a place called The Transformer in Fitzroy which was hands down one of the best tasting menus I have had in a while and it was totally vegetarian. The level of cooking and presentation was so imaginative I am convinced it would convert the most staunch carnivore. A bar crawl with yummy-mummy ended at three in the morning and was then followed by a full day’s wine tour in the Yarra Valley. What a way to ride out a hangover.
I made a pit stop in Canberra to see a wonderful woman I met in New Zealand and meet her new house mate this time a five month old puppy called Harry. A total head turner and an adorable fur ball. Canberra is like a toy town. Reminds me of Milton Keynes in England. I visited art galleries and museums and stumbled across a commemorative special service at the War memorial. Parts of the political end of the city have sweeping boulevards and roads that are not too dis-similar to Washington. Monuments carefully placed giving roads a sense of grandeur. During my last few days in Sydney I took a day trip to the stunning Blue Mountains outside of the city and booked into a hotel in the now trendy Kings Cross area for two nights and went to a Jazz club to listening to a jamming session.
I have completely revised my opinion of Australia. I would love to return, next time with hiking boots and poles in tow. I’d ideally like to nail some of the more remote areas in the Northern Territory and head over to Tasmania. I saw enough spiders to last a lifetime, but no koalas, cassowaries, possums or wallabies. My first sighting of wild kangaroos was in the capital in a park – go figure!!
Australian men fulfilled and broke every stereotype in equal measure, I picked up some Aussie slang and enjoyed bogan watching (chavs). A hedonistic month I would say. It’s now time to knuckle down, wriggle back into neoprene and get back to explore the waters of Vanua Levu in Fiji for the next three months.